Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe
Bruce Willis as Older Joe
Emily Blunt as Sara
Piper Perabo as Suzie
Jeff Daniels as Abe
Paul Dano as Seth
Pierce Gagnon as Cid
Garret Dillahunt as Jesse
Tracie Thoms as Beatrix
James Rawlings as Gat Man
Noah Segan as Kid Blue
David Jensen as Super
Nick Gomez as Dale
Marcus Hester as Zach
David Joseph Martinez as Older Dale
Frank Brennan as Old Seth
Directed by Rian Johnson
Sometime in the near future, hitmen known as “loopers” are assigned to kill mob victims sent back in time from 30 years in the future. One such looper is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose plans to get out of the business hits a snag when its his time to “close his loop” (i.e. kill his future self, played by Bruce Willis) who instead uses his time jaunt to the past to try to kill the man responsible for making his future life so miserable.
It’s one of those big questions that people ask each other when they’ve had a few drinks and are getting philosophical: What would you ask your future self if you were given a chance to meet them? That question is explored to its fullest in director Rian Johnson’s third film, an ably-conceptualized mix of gritty crime thriller and science fiction that reunites him with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the star of Johnson’s feature film debut “Brick.”
“Looper” quickly sets up the premise of its title introducing the hitmen commissioned to kill targets sent into the past (their present) from 30 years in the future when time travel has been made possible. The career of a “looper” lasts until they tie up loose ends by killing their future selves, called “closing the loop.” Apparently, this is a common enough occurrence that its considered a joyous occasion rather than something to freak out about until Joes best friend Seth (Paul Dano) doesn’t complete his mission, allowing his future self to escape in the present, something that could potentially create all sorts of problems.
We then watch an Aronofsky-esque montage of Joe going through his day-to-day assignments until the inevitable happens and he’s faced with his future self, played by Bruce Willis. Unlike Seth, it’s not his choice to neglect his assignment, but thirty years of life experience has made Joe crafty enough to avoid being killed by himself. As with Seth, the existence of a future Joe creates a problem that can only be solved by eradicating the future version of Joe, but as we watch the younger Joe trying to resolve the issue, we suddenly cut to what would have happened if Joe closed his loop as planned. He collects his gold and lives his life as we watch the next thirty years of squandering the money for drugs until he meets a beautiful Asian woman who saves him. Thirty years later and Joe is targeted to be killed but he escapes and jumps into the time machine bringing us back to the first meeting of the two.
The casting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same person thirty years apart is certainly something that could potentially make or break the movie for people depending on how they feel about this idea. At first, it’s a little distracting to watch Gordon-Levitt playing such a different person than we’re used to seeing him play. Despite the make-up to change his face, he’s never doing a direct impression, though every once in a while he nails Willis’ trademark smirk or chuckle that makes it clear they’re one and the same. On the other hand, this is easily one of Bruce Willis’ best roles in years, one that allows him to tap into the world-weary side of someone who has been playing the game for a while. His performance in Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” is about as good a barometer as you can get in terms of his character. Even so, there is surprisingly little interaction between the two actors except for a great scene in a diner where the sharp dialogue Johnson has perfected over his past films comes to the fore.
The tone of “Looper” is more in line with Johnson’s debut “Brick,” only given a significantly bigger budget we get to see how he flexes his muscles as a filmmaker to take his distinctive style to another level, creating a visually stunning film with sumptuous cinematography by Johnson’s regular DP Steve Yedlin that pays slight homage to Kubrick without ever feeling like a direct rip-off. The most interesting visual contrast is created going back and forth between futuristic cities filled with the homeless and the stark plain filled with crops, which represents a simpler and more quiet time.
Things take a bit of a dip going into the second hour as the two Joes go looking for the “Rainmaker” responsible for all the hardships in their later life, including the decision to close all the remaining loops. This is where we meet Emily Blunt, a tough single mother living at a remote house surrounded by sugar cane fields who is taking care of a temperamental young boy named Cid. Blunt would seem like an odd choice for the role at first, maybe because we haven’t seen her playing this type of tough, shotgun-toting mother that might fit better in a Tarantino film, but its obvious her dramatic skills were necessary for what ends up being a far more complex role than it might let on at first.
The other primary player is Jeff Daniels as the loopers’ handler Abe, offering a clever spin on the crotchety police captain we’ve seen in so many movies, being from the future and knowing a little more than Joe about his future. Once he realizes Joe’s future self has escaped, he sends a number of his men after them, which is where the action comes in, and it’s done in a way that excites without taking away from the film’s cerebral nature.
As is often the case with time travel, trying to figure out the flaws and anomalies can sometimes cause headaches, but Johnson comes up with clever ways of using the premise that aren’t quite on the level of “Primer” where you need to draw diagrams to figure things out.
For some reason, certain people in our near future have developed the ability to perform light telekinesis or “TK,” something that seems rather random when first introduced, but actually plays into the overall plot. We won’t say too much about how that’s used, but it does allow for some spectacular effects-driven moments as the last act builds to an incredible climax.
The Bottom Line:
“Looper” feels like the type of movie that can only get better with repeat viewings–much like Johnsons previous film “The Brothers Bloom” in fact–but even with our single solitary viewing, it’s obvious he’s successfully pulled off a hugely ambitious and mind-blowing sci-fi twist on the gangster flick that’s likely to make it one of the coolest movies of the year.
Looper is the Opening Night Gala Premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and opens theatrically on September 28.